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TRAPPING TROUBLESOME GRIZZLIES IS BEAR OF A JOB

Tim Manley's headaches have claws, teeth and weigh 500 pounds.

Last year, the state bear specialist trapped more troublesome grizzly bears than most people see in their entire lifetimes.Night after night, Manley's answering machine flashed with messages from alarmed homeowners with a grizzly in the back yard. His pickup tires thinned as he answered complaints from Eureka to Swan Lake, Marias Pass to Many Lakes.

Now, as bruins emerge from their snow-covered dens, he is bracing for another potentially busy year.

Manley's life each summer hinges largely on huckleberries.

In 1994, berries were plentiful, and he trapped only one bear. In 1995, a poor huckleberry crop sent bears to serviceberry patches, orchards and backyards.

This year? It's an open question.

Between May and November last year, Manley trapped and relocated 12 grizzlies. During the busiest part of the season, he worked 100 hours a week.

"Mostly, trapping just buys us a little time," he said.

Of last year's 12 captured bears, half are still in the wild. The other six were either killed or hauled to zoos.

Overall in 1995, about 17 bears were killed or removed from the threatened Northern Rockies population.

"That's not a huge dent in the population, but it's more than I would like to repeat year after year," Manley said.

In the next few weeks, bears will leave their dens. With the high country full of snow, they will be forced to forage in lowlands, Manley said.

Manley has been the region's grizzly specialist for three years. In that time, some magnets that attract bears have been eliminated.

The open garbage bins near Essex, Nyack and Swan Lake now are bear-proofed. Tons of grain spilled from derailed trains and buried along the Burlington Northern tracks appear finally to be cleaned up.

Still, there are hundreds of places for bears to find trouble.

One of Manley's biggest tasks is educating people who live in bear country to keep trash and animal feed locked inside garages or sheds. Bird feeders and bee boxes are also bear draws.

Often he meets people who have no idea they live in grizzly habitat.

In fall, orchards draw bears. In particular, Manley has been kept busy in orchards on Foothills Road and near Swan Hill and Bigfork. Last year, he trapped and relocated one young boar grizzly three times before it finally denned in the back country.

"He just loved the apples and plums," Manley said.

Too often, however, bears drawn to orchards turn to neighbors' garbage cans or dog dishes. And hungry bears shred fruit trees.

This year, Manley hopes to erect electric fences to keep bears out of some problem orchards. A conventional deer fence is no obstacle for a bear.

Automatic noisemakers may prove useful as well.

Further, Manley is training a Karelian bear dog. Eventually, these animals might be used to haze bears away from orchards and neighborhoods.

Grizzlies have a reputation for ferocity, but none of the bears Manley caught in 1995 threatened anyone. Not even sows with cubs.